Why Your Sun Protection Strategy Should Include More Than Just An SPF

The sun offers a long list of benefits for humans. It can reduce your high blood pressure, strengthen your bones, kill bacteria, improve your mood, give you vitamin D, and help you sleep better. On the other hand, too much sunlight exposure can be harmful, especially if your skin is unprotected.

That's why sunscreen was invented, but nowadays, SPF is available in more than just sunscreen. From facial moisturizers to foundations to full body lotions, it's easy to find products on store shelves that contain SPF. Since the benefits of this ingredient are widely known, it's natural to assume that these creams and powders are all you need for sun protection, but that's not necessarily true.

Products with SPF do provide a layer of protection against the harmful UV rays from the sun, but they don't all offer the same level of defense. The United States Food & Drug Administration recommends a minimum SPF of 15 for brief sun exposure and higher for longer exposure, but the highest SPF in most cosmetic products is 15. This is why full sunscreen products are generally a better option for optimal sun protection. It's also important for your sun protection strategy to include appropriate clothing and eye protection.

Full sunscreen products tend to offer more sun protection than cosmetic products with SPF

While it's great that so many moisturizing and cosmetic products now include SPF as an active ingredient, that doesn't automatically classify them as sunscreen. Plus, people don't apply them the same way as sunscreen.

Austin McCormick, a researcher involved in a University of Liverpool study that compared the application of sunscreen to that of moisturizers with SPF, shared his insight on the topic. His comments were published on Patient. "Although skin moisturizer with SPF does provide sun protection, our research suggests that it's not to the same degree as sunscreen," he said.

In the study, some participants used a moisturizer with SPF, while others used sunscreen. The latter group was more protected from the sun than the former, simply because the former didn't apply enough moisturizer; many forgot to put it on their eyelids. McCormick added that "for prolonged periods in the sun, we recommend the application of sunscreen with high SPF."

Another factor to consider is that many cosmetic products and moisturizers with SPF contain a protection factor of only 15. Doris Day, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at the NYU Langone Medical Center, doesn't think that's enough protection, as she shared with Consumer Reports. The SPF in some sunscreen products can be as high as 100, which means the product stops 99% of UVB rays from reaching your skin, while SPF 15 blocks 93% (via MD Anderson).

Clothing, sunglasses, and hats provide an added layer of sun protection

If you'll be working outside all day, your clothing should ideally cover as much of your skin as possible to prevent sunburning, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The sun doesn't penetrate clothing the same way it does sunscreen, so clothing is your best line of defense. Breathable fabricsĀ like cotton and linen are best, but if you want your clothing to be breathable and wick away moisture when you sweat, go with nylon, polyester, or merino wool instead.

Spending the day at the beach would be an exception to this clothing suggestion for most people. Just keep in mind that if you want to show off that new bikini, don't forget to lather on the sunblock or at least some sunscreen with the highest possible SPF. For more sun protection, you can choose between a tankini with shorts or a skirt, or even a full-body swimsuit. Your skin will thank you later.

Another part of your body that needs some shielding from the sun is your eyes, so don't forget the sunglasses. Make sure the pair you choose offers UV protection. You can also wear a hat with a brim that blocks the sun from your eyes and face.

"No single sun protection method can protect you perfectly, which is why The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a multi-pronged sun protection strategy," Dr. Ramzi Saad, a dermatologist and spokesperson for the foundation said inĀ New Beauty.